A recent exposé on The Dr. Oz show has spurred a lot of discussions about pro-ana, pro-mia, and thinspiration (thinspo) websites. For those who are unfamiliar, these sites promote disordered behaviors through photographs of skeletal bodies as well as tips and tricks to stave off hunger and hide your behaviors from family and friends, among other things. It’s an online how-to guide for one of the deadliest psychological disorders, a handbook for slow suicide.
Pro-ana sites are seen as a “support community” for sufferers of an eating disorder, as well as a seductive jumping-off point for those who have been teetering a little too close to the edge. An article on DoctorOz.com explains this distorted thought process pretty accurately:
Pro-Ana world provides a kind of social support for which those who struggle with anorexia are desperate. Because most social activities in our society do involve food, these individuals often isolate and turn down opportunities to build and foster relationships. Additionally, the pathological behaviors and beliefs around food practiced by those with anorexia can create feelings of shame and loneliness. Reading and seeing that others are engaging in similar experiences can create a sense of comfort and belonging, despite the destructive nature of this common ground.
Unlike many psychiatric disorders from which folks are highly motivated to recover, anorexia nervosa can take on an addictive quality such that success becomes defined by the severity of one’s illness: how much weight is loss, how few calories are consumed, or how much exercise is completed. When the brain is deprived of proper nutrition for an extended period of time, individuals lose touch with reality and with the ability to recognize that they are committing a slow suicide.
Anorexia is not a lifestyle, as some members of the Pro-Ana community will assert. It is a deathstyle.
These sites are incredibly dangerous; I should know, having once frequented them religiously. I not only committed the “tips and tricks” to memory, but put them to practice. I copied down the mantras over and over in my journal: “nothing tastes as good as thin feels”; “quod me nutrit me destruit”; “hunger hurts but starving works.” I lusted after the thighs of the Olsen twins, the body of Angelina. I absorbed it all, hungry for ways to meet my goals of losing weight and supposed happiness, all the while being careful to delete my browsing history so as not to be discovered.
Thankfully, some blogging sites are taking notice. Tumblr.com announced on February 23, 2012, that it will be enforcing a new policy prohibiting blogs that promote eating disorders and other self-harm. Whenever someone uses a flagged search term, such as “pro-ana,” “thinspo,” “thinspiration,” “bulimia,” or “anorexia,” public service ads will appear, as well as the dangers of eating disorders and contact information to get help.
The official announcement on the Tumblr staff blog states:
…Tumblr sometimes gets used for things that are just wrong. We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr.
A lot of people say that this infringes on free speech, especially as it comes in the wake of Congress’s attempt to pass the SOPA and PIPA bills, but I mean, come on. Most blogging sites already have policies against promoting specific material such as incest, bestiality, and child pornography, so why not pro-ana? This pro-ana material is extremely dangerous and damaging, fueling the fires of an already deadly disease. It promotes and glamorizes eating disorders, oftentimes enabling people to develop a disorder that wasn’t there in the first place. By making these pro-ana sites harder to access, maybe some lives can be saved. I can only hope that more blogging platforms follow Tumblr’s lead and put similar policies in place.
It’s important to realize that eating disorders aren’t a “diet” or some kind of bandwagon to jump on – it’s an intense psychological disease that can kill if left untreated. If that means infringing on free speech a little, then so be it.
Fighting for the smallest goal: to get a little self-control.
I see it in your eyes, I see it in your spine.